When Aref, a third-grader who lives in Muscat, Oman, refuses to pack his suitcase and prepare to move to Michigan, his mother asks for help from his grandfather, his Siddi, who takes Aref around the country, storing up memories he can carry with him to a new home.
Original publication date
I've seen stories about Americans moving to other countries and it was fun to experience a story where America was the strange and dreaded destination. It's not even America that's the problem. It's the leaving in general.
I also really love Sidi and his way of dealing with this issue. I love the way he seems to revel in his country and in spending time with his grandson. I love the way he talks about the turtles laying eggs in the sand and the way Aref's favorite animal brings into focus what is expected of him in this moving adventure.
I listened to the audiobook, read by Peter Ganim, and was only 4 hours long. It seems like a perfect length for a book rated for this age group. This would be a great book for middle grade readers, especially for schools to add as recommended reading at that age. It reminds us that moving and hating to move and everything that worries us about it are completely normal and fairly similar. We aren't so different after all and someone is looking at our hometown the same way that we are looking at theirs.
Written by Palestinian-American children's author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye, The Turtle of Oman is the first children's story I have read set in Oman, and is apparently inspired by the author's time teaching at an international school in that country. I found Aref and Sidi both very engaging characters, and thought that the author deftly captured the gentle back-and-forth of their loving and often humorous exchanges. The many lists included throughout - a list maker like his parents, Aref is forever jotting various things down, whether it be facts about turtles or questions about his life - make an interesting contrast to the main text. Although not quite what I expected - I thought the book would focus on Aref's adjustment to life in the US - this was still an engaging tale about a boy facing the common childhood problem of moving to a new place. What makes the story uncommon is the setting and culture from which Aref hails, as there really aren't a superfluity of Arab characters in American children's literature. The narrative focus on Aref's relationship with Sidi gives the tale added pathos and meaning, making this a book that many young readers will appreciate. Recommended to young readers looking for stories about children coping with moving house, or relating to their grandparents, as well as to anyone looking for children's books sets in the Middle East.
"Birds knew how far to fly in a single day and where to land and where it might be safe to nest. Turtles knew this too. Turtles knew the exact moment to crawl out of the sea and make a nest on the beach.
"Aref did not have this gift. Aref did not feel this is the perfect moment for me to leave home and crawl up exactly 7,283 miles away on the shores of Michigan."
I love turtles, so the turtle facts alone hooked me, though I wish there had been more about them. Also, I'm not sure why it's called The Turtle of Oman rather than the TurtleS of Oman. And while I think it was a sweet, poetic book, there is not much action for younger readers.
Still, I'm happy to add it to our school library and will recommend it to thoughtful students, students who might be moving, students who love learning about other cultures, students from Oman or near there, and, of course, turtle lovers.